Prophetic Justice in Amos, Part 1
One word we seem to hear often in our society is, “Justice.” Sadly the word is being redefined from its true meaning. We’re beginning a new series, “Prophetic Justice in Amos.” Where can we find the true meaning of justice? God’s Word! We’re beginning a series in the book of Amos. It’s interesting that many shy away from the minor prophets in the Bible, especially when it is there that we see the heart of God so clearly. And one issue very close to God’s heart is justice.
We’ll learn what the economic and spiritual climate of Israel was in the time of Amos and why God had this prophet call the people of Israel to repentance. God is never changing and we can learn a lot from what angered God in this small book of the Bible. We believe you’ll see the parallel with our society—both spiritually and economically. And how does this relate to biblical justice? Listen and find out!
Steve Conover: This is the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover and with me is Chris Katulka. Ravi Zacharias, famous Christian thinker said, "The four absolutes we all have in our minds are love, justice, evil, and forgiveness." Of those four, justice is one that in today's culture we're seeing a lot more in the news. In every human heart there is the desire for justice. We all long to see evil corrected.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, and I don't know about you, Steve, but when I'm driving down the road and I see someone driving out of control, they're going fast, they're bobbing and weaving in between cars, it's very dangerous. The thing that wells up in me and maybe in you too is the desire for a police officer to come flying out and to catch this guy and to give him a ticket and that is justice. You want to see justice realized. And that's why we're going to go to Amos because see in Amos, we're going to see how prophetic justice works. Justice is all throughout the Bible and actually a lot of God's prophetic word is built on the fact that the Israelites were living out a life of injustice. And so for the next few weeks we're going to be talking about this and I'm pretty excited about it.
Steve Conover: Stay with us for that.
But first in the news, thanks to the growing Israeli economy, low unemployment, and virtually no inflation, the Israeli shekel has become one of the strongest currencies in the world. The shekel could continue to strengthen with the development of natural gas reserves off Israel's coast and foreign investments are now pouring into Israeli technology companies.
Chris Katulka: Steve, I want you to think about this for a moment. Israel is a country of 9 million citizens. We've talked about this all the time. It's just the size of New Jersey, and yet somehow their currency has become, the shekel has become one of the strongest currencies in the world. It's stronger than the British pound. It's stronger than the Japanese yen. It's stronger than the Swiss franc, and even the euro. This to me is just a sign of God's faithfulness. To see how God takes the small things of the world. When God chose Israel, he didn't say, "I chose you because you're big, you're strong, you're mighty." He actually chose them because they were small. They were insignificant, and that through Israel He would manifest His power and His strength. And I think even today we're seeing that, that this tiny country that's just young and vibrant, is showing the world, wow, this currency is an incredibly strong currency in the world. Just another picture of God's faithfulness.
The word justice is under assault right now. When people hear the word justice, we go to what the media proclaims is justice, which is social justice. Social justice is the belief in not only equality for all, which I'm all for, I want equality. But see what they want, what social justice wants is equality of outcome. See, I believe all men were created equally in the eyes of God. God equally values every human life, but I don't believe in equality of outcome. That everyone deserves the same outcome in life. Social justice wants to see equal outcome and to see that fulfilled, to see equal outcome for all people, justice forcefully redistributes wealth so that everyone receives the same wealth. They receive the same healthcare, they receive the same opportunities, they receive the same education, they receive the same outcome. And friends, government redistribution of opportunities and experience and money is definitely not justice.
We need to reclaim this term justice because see, justice is extremely biblical. All throughout the Old Testament and New Testament justice matters. And see, biblical justice understands that the poor, the helpless, the needy, those who can't speak for themselves do exist. It doesn't ignore it. Even Jesus who was angry at the religious leaders of the Jewish community, His anger was directed at the injustices of the leaders, the injustice that they had toward the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But even Jesus says in John 12 verse 8, "For you will always have the poor among you."
Now Jesus isn't celebrating poverty or giving an endorsement for poverty here. He's actually stating a truth. Poverty will always exist. There will always be someone in need of more and He's not saying we shouldn't help or get involved. That would be contrary to everything that the Old Testament law and New Testament commandments call us to do. But the truth is, equality of outcome as social justice would have you think, as noble as it sounds, is more of a virtuous injustice than it is a biblical justice.
Look, I cannot stress enough that the prophet's full time job wasn't simply to prognosticate and predict the future. A prophet's full time job was to look at Israel's spiritual condition. To look at how they were living out biblical justice that comes from the law of God. How they are treating their fellow Israelites because how they were treating one another is indicative of their relationship with the Lord as well. If biblical justice wasn't being fulfilled among the Israelites, a prophet then would have to step in and announce judgment. And this is exactly what we see in the prophecy of Amos. And for the next couple of weeks we're going to look at three acts of injustice that were happening in Israel that made Amos stand up and tell Israel to change, repent, or God's judgment is coming. And then our final week we're going to look at the hope and the promises that Amos has for Israel and a glorious future that Amos has for Israel.
Let's talk a little bit about Amos. See, the year is about 762 BC. And Amos is a highly skilled man who lives in the town of Tekoa, just about 10 miles south of Jerusalem. And the text says at Amos was a shepherd. But it's interesting here because the normal Hebrew word for shepherd, one that would kind of give us the vision of what a shepherd looks like, actually isn't used here. It's a different word. It's a unique word that's only used once or twice in the entire Old Testament. And it actually has to do with the word for a breeder, someone who breeds animals. And so Amos was, as the text tells us a breeder. He was a rancher and he was a farmer.
And let me tell you, for that time in an agricultural society, Amos is doing it all. And then God calls Amos to minister to Israel. He's mostly ministering to Israel, he speaks to Judah, but he's mostly ministering to the northern 10 tribes of Israel. And he does this during the reign of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel. Now we got to talk about Israel and Judah's background here because background is everything when it comes to studying the prophets. You have to know what's going on in the culture, the times. You have to know the politics that are going on to understand why a prophet is preaching and what he's saying. And so let me tell you, Amos is living in a time of material prosperity for Israel. Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel had incredibly long reigns and those long reigns brought stability. It brought prosperity. And it brought expansion.
The southern kingdom of Uzziah subdued the Philistines to the west, the Amorites to the east and the countries to the south. And Uzziah's political influence, was even felt all the way down into Egypt. In the northern 10 tribes of Israel, the northern kingdom where Amos directed his prophetic ministry, they were experiencing the height of their power. Aram to the north of them had never recovered from a defeat in 802 by the Assyrians and the Assyrians couldn't push past them to come down into the northern 10 tribes of Israel. There was kind of a buffer for them there. And Jeroboam was actually even able to extend his borders into those territories and to reclaim some of Israel's land in what is now the country of Jordan.
There was expansion, there was wealth that was being built because of new trade routes that were going through. Wealth began to accumulate in their cities, commerce thrived in Israel. And then eventually what happens is an upper class emerges. Expensive homes are now being built and the rich are enjoying a very lazy and indulgent lifestyle. While the poor in Israel become targets, they become targets for legal and economic exploitation. Slavery for debt was easily accepted during this time, and really the standards of morality had sunk to a new low in Israel. But here's what's interesting though. As standards for morality sink to a new low, there was a flourishing of religion. The people happily, the Israelites happily went to their places of worship for yearly festivals. They gladly offered their sacrifices. They even considered the fact that God was with them, and as a result, they considered themselves immune to disaster.
Opulence can oftentimes be mistake as a blessing from God. And in the world, God calls Amos to be a prophet, to unveil the injustices done in the land. The first injustice is directed actually toward God Himself. It's religious hypocrisy. Listen to this accusation that Amos brings against Israel as he speaks the words of the Lord in Amos chapter 5. He says this, "I absolutely despise your festivals. The Lord says to Israel, I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies. Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied. I will not look on with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves. Take away from me your noisy songs. I don't even want to hear the music of your stringed instruments. Justice must flow like torrents of water. Righteous acts like a stream that never dries up. You did not bring me sacrifices in grain during the 40 years you spent in the wilderness, family of Israel. You will pick up your images of Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun your star God, which you made for yourselves."
Look at this as the Lord is using Amos to speak. Look at this injustice of false worship to God. As one commentator put it, he says this, "False worship arises from sinful lives is worse than unacceptable to the Lord." These Israelites, think about this, this is what Amos is accusing them of. He's accusing them of hollowing out true worship of God and really only leaving the ritual aspects of it. Yes they came for the mandatory festivals, the Passover feast of Shavuot, the Feast of Tabernacles. Yes, they offered up sacrifices regularly, but God says He rejects them. He even would reject the peace offering, which is a fellowship offering, which shows the relational breakdown between the Israelites and God. That God was even unwilling to fellowship with them.
Inauthentic worship is an injustice in God's eyes because see, true worship wouldn't simply manifest itself in offering sacrifices or singing songs. See, true worship is revealed in obedience to the Lord. The way we love God should reflect itself in the way we love and treat those around us. It's the reason in the middle of judging Israel for inauthentic worship the Lord says, "Justice must flow like torrents of water. Righteous actions like a stream that never dries up."
Friends, what God is saying here through His prophet Amos is you cannot enact justice unless it's connected to obedience in following God. Everyone who talks about doing justice, bringing justice, being a people of justice are just talking a good talk because see, true changing justice can only happen when it's in accordance with obedience to the Lord. And these Israelites are going through the motions. They're just enjoying life. They're doing their due diligence when it comes to worship and believing God is pleased. Well, God is saying He's not pleased and Israel is on the fast track to judgment for neglecting what true worship is. See, true justice starts first with God. And when we return, I want to take this concept of justice and bring it now into the church and our lives as believers. Be sure to stick around.
Steve Conover: The minor prophets are a treasure trove of practical truths and timeless messages that speak to the human condition. During the eighth century BC, Hosea, Amos and Micah warned that the Jewish people's rejection of God would surely bring His judgment. In his book, The Ruin and Restoration of Israel, David Levy paints a moving picture of God's deep love for His people and the hope of their restoration as he walks through the minor prophets, Hosea, Amos and Micah. To order your copy of The Ruin and Restoration of Israel by David Levy, visit us at foiradio.org, that's foiradio.org. We'll have the link on our homepage or you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940 and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's (888) 343-6940. To order in Canada, call (888) 664-2584. Again in Canada, that's (888) 664-2584.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everyone. We're looking at the prophet Amos, an amazing prophet who ministered to the nation of Israel. And see by minister, I mean he revealed to Israel their shortcomings by losing sight of what true worship is to God and really how daily obedience to the Father and the way we live our lives is more of an act of worship than just singing and bringing offerings and celebrating festivals. And listen, I believe this concept carries right over into our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. Just listen to what John says in first John 1:6. He says this, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet keep on walking in darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth." See, this sounds a lot like the Israelites in Amos' time. They thought everything was good with God. They thought they had fellowship with Him and yet they lived and they walked in darkness.
This concept of walking is so interesting in Jewish culture because see, to walk is actually a behavioral thing. When we talk about walking, that's actually a very Jewish way of thinking about behavior. In fact, a lot of law, it's called Halakhic law. Halakhic is the idea of walking, so it's how we're living out the very obedience, not just going to church, not just going to a Sunday school, not just going to our small groups. It's the every day and see when we're not doing that, it's religious hypocrisy. Just going through the motions. John says, "If you say, 'Hey, me and God, we're just fine,' and then you're walking in darkness or disobedience, you're just lying to yourself." And listen to this. From first John 1:8. It says, "If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us."
Remember Israel was offering sacrifices in Amos thinking that everything was just fine with God. They had a relationship. But God said he couldn't stand those sacrifices. He wouldn't even take the fellowship sacrifice, the peace sacrifice. That relationship was actually broken, but Israel just thought everything was fine. Israel thought there was no sin. And it got again, John writes in first John 2:9 through 11, "The one who says that he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian, his brother, is still in the darkness, the one who loves his fellow brother, his fellow Christian, resides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him."
Look, when John says walking in darkness, he's talking again about that everyday life of the person. That this believer says he's in the light, which means he's following and obeying the Lord and then he hates his brother. This is a contradiction. This is an injustice. And remember what I said about the background to Israel during the life of Amos? The rich would get richer. Life was good, but those in need, those who couldn't help themselves were being taken advantage of. The poor became targets for legal and economic exploitation. Remember I said slavery for debt was easily accepted and standards of morality had sunk to a new low. This isn't loving your brother.
Is it any coincidence that when James is defining what true religion looks like, he says this, "Pure and undefiled religion before God, the Father is this, to take care of orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained from the world." That is walking in the light. And notice it doesn't say, James doesn't say going to church. Notice James doesn't say singing songs of worship. He's actually talking about what pure worship, what pure religion is. The truest form of religion is actually reaching out and enacting justice on behalf of those who can't speak for themselves like orphans and widows. Amos shows us that true justice and friends, we are supposed to be people of justice because we follow the King who promotes true justice, Amos is going to show us that true justice begins first with our relationship with God. It all has to start there. So let's let justice flow.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: Here in Israel, believers experience much discrimination. We are reminded of what the Lord endured when He said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." My children do very well in school. Two of them were chosen because of their scholastic achievements to travel as part of a group to Europe. The teacher promised them they would be able to go and told them to prepare for the trip, but today when I returned home, I noticed something was wrong. They were unhappy. "What has happened?" I asked them. "Father, we were told we could not go to Europe," one said. I knew this was discrimination, but I was not surprised. I received the news calmly and said to my children, "Maybe this is God's will. Be strong in spirit and pray." I went to the school to inquire about the so called justice for all.
I went to the office and spoke to the director. “Before you tell me I know why you have come. It all depended on luck. This time they cannot go. I am sorry.” Do not tell me you are sorry, but you do not know divine justice and you will not until you know the Lord. Then all of this discrimination will change. What has been done against my children is because people have no faith. Without faith, man can do nothing. What is your conscience? I know why you did this. You know we have put our trust in the Lord. Your justice is full of hypocrisy. "No," he said, "we're very objective." Is this a display of your objectivity? The Lord Jesus suffered a great deal and was even killed and He forgave them. "Do you think because I am a believer I will not forgive you?"
He asked with surprise, “You are a believer?” Yes, you knew about me. I am positive that because I am a believer you have done this to my children. I want you to know we're not ashamed of our faith in the Lord. You can be sure that forever we will be believers in the Lord. Even when great troubles came our way, we remained in Israel, our country. After I finished speaking, he said, "What can I do for you?" Well me, nothing. What you can do is for yourself, for your children and for the pupils in your school. As the director, you can follow the truth which is in the Lord. Do not be a hypocrite and let your mind change like the wind. Be strong in faith and the Lord will show you what to do. How to give education and equality of rights to the children with no discrimination.
He said to me, "I am ashamed. I promise you what is past belongs in the past. It will not happen again in the future." He was interested in knowing how I came to the Lord. I was delighted to give him my testimony. No one had ever before told this man about the Lord. This was for me more important than all the trips to Europe.
Steve Conover: We're glad you joined us today. We'll continue looking at prophetic justice in the book of Amos next week. Now, Chris, earlier you mentioned James 1:27 which says, "Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this, to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world." How does this connect with our innate desire for justice?
Chris Katulka: Yeah. I don't think anybody would look at what James is saying here and say, "That's not true." I think innately we all want to make sure widows who can't help themselves are taken care of. I think anybody would, Christian or non-Christian would agree with that or orphans should be taken care of. It's something that's innate with us. But here's the best part is that really I believe pure justice according to how God wants it lived out can only happen when it starts with God. The spirit of God has to be in a person for true biblical justice to be lived out in the world. And I love this. Psalm 72, "We have a king, a king of justice."
Steve Conover: Join us next week as we continue in our series looking at the book of Amos. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been sharing the love of the Messiah and supporting Israel and the Jewish people since 1948. If you feel led to support our work where you simply want to reach out to us, visit foiradio.org. That's foiradio.org. In the United States you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. Again, that's (888) 343-6940. You can write to us at FOI Radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. In Canada, call (888) 664-2584. Again, that's (888) 664-2584. Please let us know where you're listening when you call or write. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry, communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
The Ruin and Restoration of Israel
By David M. Levy
In his book, The Ruin and Restoration of Israel, David Levy paints a moving picture of God’s deep love for the Jewish people as he walks through the books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah.
Apples of Gold: Divine Justice
Zvi’s children were excited to travel to Europe for a scholastic trip. But without notice they were pulled from the trip. When they came home and told their father he knew the reason. It was because they were believers in Jesus. Zvi went to the school to talk to the leader. Hear Zvi’s conversation with the school leader. It’s not what you might think.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.